Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Metropolitan Fails Lincoln Kirstein: An Open letter to Philippe de Montebello

I’ve just come back from the Metropolitan Museum’s presentation on Lincoln Kirstein very disappointed. This ad hoc, unscripted, uninformative program gave no insights into the source of Kirstein’s genius.
The executor of Kirstein’s literary estate told us nothing about Kirstein’s writing, nor did he read anything by Kirstein. Instead, he suggested a vague and unconvincing relationship between some quotes from T.S. Eliot and Kirstein.
The Met’s curator of photography showed two photos of Kirstein by Walker Evans and many pictures by Evans with the excuse that Kirstein was Evan’s patron. Why not read a letter from Kirstein to Evans illustrating this relationship?
The comments from Violette Verdy and Peter Martins were more about Balanchine than Kirstein. The most we got was that he ate tuna fish.
Besides being slapdash and unprofessional, the evening avoided completely a central aspect of Kirstein’s life: his homosexuality. Why hide this central feature of his life? When people talk and write about Balanchine they never fail to mention his many wives and affairs. This is not prurient prying, but an important key to his personality and his genius. Has not Martin Duberman in his new biography of Kirstein shown us that his sexuality was a major source of his passion? Although married, Kirstein never hid his homosexual life. How much better would the evening have been if someone who had researched Kirstein’s life, such as Duberman, had spoken? As it was, the only information we got was from the handout which was fine as far as it went, sketching his role in the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, but without much depth.
The best part of the program was the dancing. Unlike the panel, the student dancers were poised, expressive, and professional. They gave the evening what pleasure there was to be had in this unfortunate exercise.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Save Us from Weak Resignation

One of my favorite hymns is “God of Grace and God of Glory.” The music is the great Welch tune, “Cwm Rhondda” by John Hughes, and the words are by Harry Emerson Fosdick. In the fifth and last verse, he writes: “Save us from weak resignation, To the evils we deplore.”
As the war drags on and the deaths and misery keep mounting, this verse is a desperate cry for us not to sink into apathy and go shopping. With the Republicans supporting Bush and the Democrats unwilling to confront him and persist in demanding an end to the bloodshed, most people have moved on, actively willing the war out of mind. In his column of Sunday, September 16th, Frank Rich highlights our indifference to this intractable conflict. Thirty years ago, when Gen. William Westmoreland urged staying the course in Vietnam, all three networks pre-empted their midday programming for his appearance. When Gen. Petraeus gave his recent testimony on Iraq, no network interrupted a soap opera for his testimony. Rich points out that America can not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it or of war in general. Television programs and movies about our wars are ratings disasters and box office poison. The public has changed the channel. They don't want to see American troops dying in Iraq or Afghanistan, because they ask, “What can be done?” Now, writes Rich, our America, unlike Vietnam-era America, is more often resigned than angry.
Most Americans may have given up trying to end the war, but under their resignation, anger still lurks. This past week, when the Senate voted to censure MoveOn for its ad denouncing Gen. Petraeus, MoveOn reported the biggest outpouring of donations ever, ensuring more ads against the war.
So resignation is probably our attempt to forget, hide, or tamp down our anger. This is not likely to be helpful and may cause harm. As Harry Emerson Fosdick writes in his great hymn, we should not yield to resignation, but let our conscious and therefore focused anger be the weapon we wield against this terrible war. Write your members of congress, join protests, contribute money to causes that work to stop the war. Above all pray that your resignation be replaced with the determination to end this and all wars.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Prayer on Yom Kippur

In the Jewish Mosaic E-News on Sept. 21 (www.jewishmosaic.org), Rabbi Steve Greenberg writes about the Yom Kippur dilemma. He writes:

Every Yom Kippur, gay Jews who attend services are faced with a dilemma. In the afternoon service the portion from Leviticus delineating the sexual prohibitions is read in most traditional synagogues. The whole of chapter 18 is read. It is a list of sexual violations from incest, to adultery, from sex with a menstruant woman, to bestiality and of course sex between men. And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman, it is an abomination. How are we supposed to respond to this public humiliation?

For nearly two thousand years gay Jews, and particularly gay men, have had to listen to their lives debased on the holiest day of the year, their sexual relations demonized with the word toeva, abomination. It’s no wonder that many liberal synagogues have rejected this tradition and have replaced it various other readings.

However, despite the difficulty, there is good reason for communities to sustain the traditional reading. Repressing difficult texts is a lot like repressing feelings; they inevitably resurface and often in much more destructive ways. It seems better to me that we read Leviticus 18 and deal with it than deny or ignore it. Moreover, reading the text in shul on Yom Kippur makes us present in a powerful, if challenging way. With acknowledgement, it can become a call to greater empathy, understanding. We can use it to bring to communal memory the countless people throughout the ages, who, on the most holy day of the year, had no voice in the face the most devastating misrepresentation of their hearts. And lastly, it can serve as an impetus for learning and reinterpretation of the biblical and rabbinic texts that should no longer be a cause of self-loathing or exclusion.

Toward this end I wrote this prayer along with my friend Danny Wohl to accompany the afternoon Torah service on Yom Kippur. It is printed below for communities to use and where that is not possible, for individuals to use privately. With wishes for a Yom Kippur that helps us all to overcome the obstacles in our way toward greater authenticity, generosity of spirit and aliveness and may Jewish communities everywhere come soon to embrace their gay and lesbian sons and daughters.

Prayer to accompany the Torah reading of Leviticus 18 on Yom Kippur Afternoon

by Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Danny Wohl

Master of the Universe
On this Yom Kippur,
As the noonday sun descends,
We open up your sacred scroll,
And read with awe its words of wisdom.
Troubled, we share our meditations withYou.

In the beginning You created us in your image,
Breathed into a pure body opposing desires,
The human was created, lonely and alone.
When You repaired the flaw, transformed it by love
Your creations rejoiced, their longings fulfilled.
Flesh of Flesh, bone of bone,
One made two and two made one.

But You have also kindled the storms of our passion,
How, brazen and reckless, we slake our thirst.
We are overwhelmed by a sea of desire.
Only the bonds of covenant restrain the torrent,
Setting boundaries that cannot be breached.

You call us to read on this sacred day
The verses that ban the uncovering of nakedness.
The sins committed in the embrace of families
That trample innocence and humiliate with touch,
The degrading coercions that cry out unheard,
The breach of trust and the betrayal of loved ones
Fill the land with violence from within.

Shield of Abraham and Defender of Sarah,
Grant safety and security to those who have suffered abuse.
Send them peace of mind and soothe their spirits
As they turn to you for healing on this Day of Awe.

Master of the Universe, to Whom all secrets are known,
As the reading closes and “abhorence” is spoken
Women and men, in every congregation
Hear the words “Thou shalt not lie” and weep
In the back rows of synagogues,
Outcast and broken.

On this Day of Judgment, please God remember
The myriad souls, who from the beginning
Found in their hearts a fierce inclination,
A mighty love, toward members of their own sex.

Remember O Lord their paralyzing fear.
The unspeakable longing, the shaming embrace,
Accusing them with the full force of Law
Of perversions that could only be remedied by death.

Remember throughout history the thousands upon thousands,
Who consumed by self-hatred and the scorn of others,
Were cast out as outrage, or suffered unseen.
Not one dared imagine that they were not cursed
But blessed by the One, Who revels in difference.

And I further observed the tears of the oppressed
With none to comfort them.
And I saw the power of their oppressors
With none to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Master of the universe, Creator of humankind
Are the oppressors of your children,
The verses themselves or those who interpret them?
What tragedies do we inflict when we drive away
Beloved daughters, beloved sons?

Our scholars once knew how to look in the book
To create new worlds in both awe and in love.
Open their eyes to the marvels and wonders,
The ways to expand and deepen your Torah
and draw down among us your spirit from above.

Where there is no comfort for the maligned and oppressed,
Then be Thou their comfort, their strength and fortress.
Bless us with peace in the midst of our differences.
Grant understanding and courage to our Sages,
Wipe away shame from the hearts of your children
And give hope to all for both wholeness and love.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Curse of Virginity

Lutherans (of whom I am one) teach justification by faith, not works. We say that we cannot win God’s approval by what we do; God loves us unreservedly. However, the history of the church, including the Lutheran church, shows that there is one work traditionally required for acceptance into the church family. This is sexual renunciation, which is often encoded in Christian scripture, liturgy, and hymns as: “purity.” The flip side of purity is fornication and adultery. This summer in the Lutheran Church, the epistles read in the liturgy have kept up the drumbeat condemning both, and St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians links fornication to impurity without defining either. Webster’s dictionary defines fornication as “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.” This seems quite nonjudgmental, particularly the “consensual” part.
However, Googling “fornication + Bible” produces, for the most part, very different results. Most sites point out how forcefully many Bible passages condemn fornication and how we fornicators are going straight to hell if we don’t repent. I found only one site that takes a different approach: “Liberated Christians” (http://www.libchrist.com), which writes of fornication: “I Cor 6:9 badly mistranslates "porneia" as fornication. Corinth was a wide-open port city. People there could get sex any way they wanted it. Where our English translations read 'fornication', Paul's original Greek word was 'porneia' which means to sell and refers to slaves bought and sold for cultic prostitution. What was happening in the Temples of Corinth was farmers were visiting the temple priestesses who represented the fertility Gods. By having sex with these prostitutes they believed their fields would be more fertile. It didn't even have to do with going to prostitutes, but pagan cultic worship.” So, perhaps fornication in the Bible is not “consensual sex,” but religious sex with gods (or their representatives) who are not the God of Abraham.
Adultery, of course, is a sin. It is defined in Webster’s as: “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband.” However, “Liberated Christians” has an interesting slant on adultery, writing: “The Jews understood ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ very differently than Church tradition. It only applied to men if they had intercourse with someone else's wife, but it was allowable for a married man to have intercourse with a single woman. Adultery was the sin of "trespassing" on a man's property. Until marriage women were the property of their fathers. After marriage they became the property of their husbands.” So, in this light, adultery is more about property than about sex.
Christian preachers (at least those I listen to) probably know all too well how “impurity, fornication or adultery” have been used in the past to shame their listeners and to attempt to control their sex lives. Preachers these days rarely use these words. They may speak about “broken relationships,” but they steer clear of Paul’s harsh language, leaving us pew sitters to figure out as best we can what to make of these words in scripture. The traditional Christian message has been (and, as most of the sites on Google attest, still is) that any sex, in thought, word, or deed, outside marriage is sinful. Augustine went further, claiming that even within marriage, sex was sinful if not entered into with the intention of procreation. The ideas that fornication might refer to idolatry or that adultery might be about property rights are lost on most Christians. So in order to be a good Christians, acceptable Christians, church people were directed to renounce sex. Thus, they have been asked since the church began to perform this work, this obviously very difficult work, to be good Christians and, it follows, to gain salvation.
Where did this emphasis on sexual renunciation in the church come from? In “The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity” (1988), Peter Brown traces the development of the thinking and practice of men and women in late antiquity, starting with Paul and concluding with Augustine, as they defined and sought sanctity. The result of their frequently very strenuous efforts at ascetic renunciation was that it moved to the center of Christian life early in the church’s history. Brown shows that the church, from its early period right into the Middle Ages, opted to make sex and contact with sex one of the main benchmarks of the hierarchy of the Christian life. Celibacy for men and virginity for women took on great importance.
We church people live with this works righteousness (the idea that our works will save us) even today. Although celibacy and chastity for men have always been important, it is women’s virginity that is emblematic of sexual renunciation. It is only a translator’s slip that has given us Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a virgin. Isaiah 7:14, the passage in the Hebrew Bible that speaks of the mother of a deliverer like Jesus, uses the words, “a young woman” not “virgin.” However “virgin” was the word chosen in the Greek translation, and virginity very early in the church became the ideal state for all. Of course, the cult of virginity brings the concept of purity to its fullest flower (If I may be allowed this sexually fraught metaphor). The Virgin Mary is revered not so much for her role as the mother of Jesus, but as an exemplar of virginity and, thus, purity. In high Mariology, Mary is conceived without sin, leads a sinless (think sexless) life, remains always a virgin, and as befits her special status was assumed into heaven without dying, a feat that not even Jesus could manage. Mary becomes the exemplar of virginity, rather than, as in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the servant of God, who, while noting her lowliness, is quite assertive, presenting a quite liberal, if not socialist, vision of a world where the poor are fed while the rich are pulled from their thrones of privilege. This is not the traditional virgin, meek and mild, but a strong woman with a radical program for social change.
So, I believe, virginity, or, more precisely, what it implies, is the curse of Christianity, making us, as sexual beings, always guilty and never “pure” enough. I think that, rather than being guilty about our sexuality, we should embrace it, and learn how to be responsible sexual people. What’s involved in this, is the subject of an upcoming blog entry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Who can you trust?

This is from 365Gay on August 29th:
Barney Frank (D-Mass) one of only two openly gay members of Congress says that Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig should resist calls for his resignation.

"What he did, it’s hypocritical, but it’s not an abuse of his office in the sense that he was taking money for corrupt votes," Frank told the Associated Press.
"I think people should resign when they have clearly done the job in a way that is dishonest."

Frank went on to tell the AP: "It’s one thing to say that someone can’t be trusted to vote without being corrupt, it’s another to say that he can’t be trusted to go to the bathroom by himself."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Beauties on the Beach

I saw two beautiful young men on the beach yesterday. I first saw them when they arrived at Two Mile Hollow Beach in East Hampton a little while after our arrival there, as they spread their blanket and stretched out about a hundred feet away. We go to Two Mile Hollow because it’s the gay beach, and the “scenery” is often very attractive. Our neighbors were outstanding examples. They couldn’t have been more than 20; one was fair, the other dark. I was particularly taken with him. He had movie star looks and a solid muscular body, which he showed off nicely in his low-riding surfer pants tightly covering his firm, round rear.
After a while, they got up and went into the fairly high waves. They tussled briefly and then played a game. One would step into the cupped hands of the other who would then flip him backwards and high into the cresting wave. After watching them play awhile, I fell asleep. When I awoke, it was time to go. The young beauties were now back on their blanket. As we passed, I saw that they were entwined in each others’ arms, fondling, and stroking, and kissing. This sight gave me great pleasure, and I smiled broadly when we were close to them. I think they saw me smiling at them. I hope so.
Why does this scene stay with me? It was sexually arousing certainly, but more than that, I sensed that I was seeing two lovers who were confident enough that they were in a safe and welcoming place to express their feelings openly. They probably knew they were on the gay beach and open displays of affection were fine. It made me happy that at least in one place – this sunny open beach – they could go where their feelings led them. For a moment, the beach was a bit of the Kingdom, where love reigned even for gay men in love.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum: an Anti-Government Film

We saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” last night. It’s a very entertaining, fast-and-furious thriller continuing the saga of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), a CIA agent who, having lost his memory, is desperately trying to recover it. His quest for his past is the driving force of this and all the Bourne movies. He is searching and on the run, not from standard-issue bad guys, but our own CIA, which is out to eliminate him, because he knows too much, is finding out too much, and will expose the agency’s criminal behavior.
The whole movie is an exciting chase with Bourne outwitting his pursuers at every turn. In his ability to survive the murderous campaign against him, he is essentially a supernatural character, a messiah saving us from our government.
I don’t remember another popular entertainment that so effectively showed the evil that is expressed in a secret, lawless government. Last summer’s James Bond epic, “Casino Royale,” in contrast, made no political statement. Indeed, James Bond always does the government’s bidding without a murmur. In “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Bourne realizes that he was duped into volunteering to serve his country and to “save American lives,” as his erstwhile mentor reminds him. Of course, instead, he has killed many people, each of whom, he says, he remembers. His memory is a grisly “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) that torments him.
His volunteering is clearly meant to be emblematic of the trust shown by all the hapless souls now dead or still fighting our secret, lawless, futile wars. They, unlike Bourne, were not indestructible messiahs. For their trusting volunteering, they have achieved no “victory,” and for those who’ve died, we cling to the hope that they are in “the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22).
In the movies, we can relax and let Bourne be our messiah; in life, we should realize that we have work to do if our world is not to be destroyed by war and lawlessness. If we ask what we should do to help avert catastrophe, we can remember the rich man who, not finding himself in the bosom of Abraham, wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that living a heedless life like his would result in the torment of Hades. Abraham’s answer is good advice for us: “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” (Luke 16:29) I would add: Do what they urge us to do.
Unfortunately, Luke’s story does not end on a happy note. Abraham continues, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (v 31)
Our Messiah has come to us from the dead, we don’t listen to him, and so we’re on our own. Given our predicament, we need the luck of Bourne. Alas, I fear that’s only in the movies.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Naming the Dead

René Girard has described scapegoating sacrifice as, “a phenomenon that unbeknownst to us generates all human cultures and still warps our human vision in favor of all sorts of exclusions.” “Unbeknownst to us:” This is the key to the universal practice of scapegoating, in which a person or group is killed, while surrounded by the aura of the divine, to solve internal conflicts by uniting against the chosen victim. As S. Mark Heim points out in his book, “Saved from Sacrifice,” violence is done but, if the scapegoating is successful, none is perceived. Sacred killing does not register as killing because it is seen as a divine command, and, as in magic, our eyes are directed elsewhere at the moment of death, so scapegoating is “Unbeknownst to us.” The view and the voice of the victim are hidden from us.
Heim points out that, in contrast, in the Bible we come to hear the objections of the sacrificed. The voices of the victims are heard in the Psalms, the book of Job, the Prophets, and, of course, in the narratives of Jesus’ Passion, where redemptive violence is a sinful human construct for peacemaking, not a divine institution.
In her column, “Naming the dead,” in the July 24, 2007 issue of the “Christian Century,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes that she first encountered naming the war dead in church at a California monastery. She writes that our current war is “a touchy subject;” “to name the dead might be construed as a political statement; and “to say these names out loud, in the presence of God and God’s people, is not a matter of being for or against the war.”
However, naming the war dead is to make our scapegoats, those we would sacrifice for national unity, visible. Unlike Brown, I believe that once the dead are named, we must wrestle with the sacrifice of their deaths. We must wrestle with the politics of the war, whether we are for it and believe that the war deaths are justified or against it and believe that these deaths are a waste.
However we come down politically, it is telling that the Bush administration has worked hard to keep the war and the war dead invisible, thus lending credence to the idea that the war would be hard to justify if the costs and the deaths were made widely known. For example, the $456 billion that the war has cost so far has, until recently, been “off-budget” and thus effectively hidden. And, in his column in the “New York Times” on August 5, 2007, Frank Rich reminds us: “Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.”
The crucifixion of Jesus was a political event undertaken, as Mark has it, “to satisfy the crowd.” However, with the resurrection, Jesus’ scapegoating became visible, and now he offers us “peace not as the world gives.” To receive this peace, we must renounce war and killing in war as a way to peace. As a start toward receiving Jesus’ peace, we must continue to make the war’s scapegoats, American, Iraqi, and Afghan, visible by naming them. As we become more aware of the deaths perpetrated in our name, we should be spurred to undertake the political work to end our wars and the scapegoating they entail.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Swedes on the March

Here is a news item of interest. If the Swedes can support gay people, why can’t others?

Church Leaders Join Stockholm Gay Pride March

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 5, 2007 - 11:00 am ET
(Stockholm) Swedish political and church leaders marched in Stockholm's LGBT pride parade Saturday, drawing large cheers and applause from thousands of people lining the streets of the capital.
About 30 members of the Swedish Lutheran Church, including the deans of the cathedrals of Stockholm and Uppsala. The Church is the largest denomination in the country.
In a statement the church said it wanted to "break the masses' big silence" regarding gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.
Representatives of the governing coalition and major opposition parties in Parliament also marched. The group included three cabinet ministers.
On Friday, Fredrik Reinfeldt became the first serving Swedish Prime Minister to take part in pride festivities when he toured a downtown park where pre-pride activities were taking place.
Close to 50,000 people marched in the parade while about a half-million people lined streets.
Prior to the march police and health officials advised people to bring plenty of drinking water to the parade as temperatures climbed into the 90s.
Earlier this year an international study of attitudes towards gays found Sweden the most the most welcoming country for gays.
Early next year it is expected Parliament will approve a same-sex marriage bill.
Sweden already has civil partnerships under a law enacted in 1995 that gives most of the rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples who register. But the country's LGBT community and moderate politicians have stepped up lobbying to have the law amended to permit gays and lesbians to marry.
A parliamentary committee studying the issue last year called civil partnerships outdated and has recommended Parliament allow same-sex marriage. It also would allow gay couples to marry in churches.
The Swedish Lutheran Church has said once the bill is approved it will conduct same-sex marriages in its churches.
©365Gay.com 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Religion: A Way of Visioning the Future

A common view in religion is that God does not change, and, therefore, religion, too, is fixed and unchanging. In this view, religion then becomes a repository of unchanging tradition, which is often confused with God’s supposedly unchanging will. However, our life is always changing, and sometimes change can be unpleasant and unwanted, so many people try to avoid change. Although they can’t do this in life, many often try to retreat into their “Old-Time” religion, where, they say, God is the same “yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” Whether this is true or not is simply unknowable, at least by the likes of us. All we know of God are those experiences we label as “God.”
Because we know we change, we should rationally be able to agree that as our experience changes, our view of God can also change. One metaphor that can help us order our experience into a meaningful narrative is our life as a journey, moving from birth through life to death and always changing. Another helpful metaphor to add to this first metaphor is that God is calling us to move into the future trusting in God’s promises with all the frightening changes that such movement entails. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the metaphor of God calling God’s followers on a journey into the future is prominent. God calls Abram to leave his home in Ur, and his father, and family to go to “the land that I will show you.” The Israelites follow Moses out of Egypt because of God’s promise that they will settle in Canaan. Jesus leaves Galilee and travels to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s mission for his life.
So, God can be envisioned as calling us into the future, a future containing many changes. Jürgen Moltmann, a prominent German Protestant theologian, has written about God not up there but out in front calling us into the future. Moltmann understands Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings and for this world as promised by the God of exodus and by God’s resurrection of the crucified Jesus. Thus, an attitude of expectancy underlies all of faith. An active doctrine of hope gives hope for an alternative (my italics) future to the oppressed and suffering of our present time (adapted from The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology [http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/mwt/dictionary/mwt_themes_855_moltmann.htm]).
As Christians contemplate possible futures, they remember the promises that God and they made in baptism, in the Word proclaimed, and in the meal. These promises can give us hope, and hope gives us courage to make choices that we trust will help make the promises a reality here among us now. Of the many promises we hear in the Christian religion, all can be understood as variations on “Thy Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” The work of Christians is to participate in bringing in God’s Kingdom here on earth, where there will be enough for all and where justice and equity reign.
Each Christian has a unique contribution to make to this enterprise, and the choices each makes will help determine how effective these contributions are. Being conscious that we have choices is an important element in making effective choices. As we contemplate choices, we can play out the possible consequences of our choices in our minds and in conversations with others. So, if we can consciously envision a better world, a world more like the Kingdom, the perhaps we will make choices that, we hope, will bring it closer. So for Christians on a God-led journey into the future, the best chance for a future more like the Kingdom is based on trust in the promises and choices informed by the promises.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It’s Only a Paper Moon

This is the paper from January of 2007 that gave me the title for this blog, "Worshiping at the Church of Non-Realism." Your comments are appreciated.

At the conclusion of his recent book, "The God Problem: Alternatives to Fundamentalism," Nigel Leaves asks whether God is real or simply a (non-real) symbol of our ultimate concern. He finds the non-realism advocated by Don Cupitt and Lloyd Geering more intellectually compelling, but the realism upheld by Marcus Borg and Bishop John Spong more emotionally appealing. Like them, many of us feel the need for a real God.
However, today even in the face of this yearning, Cupitt writes in "The Old Creed and the New," the great faith traditions, including Christianity, are rapidly breaking down and melting away, particularly in the West. Many people are no longer moved and motivated by traditional religion. The upsurge in virulent fundamentalism that would maintain the old supernatural religion with its real God is a clear sign of the challenge of non-realism. However, many people are dissatisfied with fundamentalism or other forms of traditional religion, because they no longer provide reliable answers and assurances in daily life or a convincing picture of a life after this one. As a result, non-realism is a popular default religious position for many people who have left the churches.
That said, thoroughgoing non-realism has been a hard sell, and Cupitt’s sales pitch can seem bleak: Nothing exists outside this world except (following Nietzsche) the Void. We are of this world and live and die in it. We can not observe God outside this life or demonstrate God by scientific experiment. No better (or worse) otherworld with promises of a perfect, everlasting life after this life, as conjured up by traditional religion’s supernatural picture, can shield us from the Void. To think that we can know God in heaven or in another realm not of this world in the way we know facts here in this world is an illusion. With the rise of rational enquiry from within the religious traditions, science and technology have come to dominate our thinking, leaving little inclination for supernatural explanations. And yet, along with Peggy Lee, we ask: “Is that all there is?”

The Church as the Theater of Feelings
Cupitt has been a reformer, not a despiser of the Church, such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or Sam Harris. Cupitt has always encouraged us to become more consciously religious; he urges us to remain in the Church, but keep our eyes open, making, as he writes in "Radicals and the Future of the Church," the church our (his emphasis) work of art. He writes that the church is needed because “It is a theatre in which we solemnly enact our deepest feelings.”
The theatre analogy points to how non-realism could work in real churches. When we go to the theatre we usually naturally and easily suspend disbelief to enter into the world of the actors who by speech and action on stage in turn evoke in us actions, feelings, experiences and thoughts. So, likewise, during a religious service we may also suspend disbelief, and have religious feelings and experiences.
Calvin wrote that each of us is an actor and God is the audience, but with the death of God and the disappearance of the supernatural from our scientific world, there is now no audience for the plays of our lives. But what if, instead, we are both actors and audience? What if, like Judy and Mickey and all the other kids, young and old, we run down to the old barn of the church and put on a play? We create the play of and about God and perform our creation for ourselves and the others with us who are also creators and performers? Then, God, who only lives if we manifest God, in the words of the old prayer, by our life and conversation, can appear again: this time in our play, both as playwright and performer. Of course, to encourage God’s appearance in our post-modern production, we will have to sprinkle ourselves liberally with the fairy dust of Paul Ricoeur’s post-critical naïveté to screen awhile our critical thinking.
That worship produces belief is an old idea. In "On Liturgical Theology," Aidan Kavanagh reminds us that orthodoxy means first “right worship” and only secondarily doctrinal accuracy. This implies that worship conceived broadly is what gives rise to theological reflection rather than the other way around. In the phrasing of Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390 - 465), it is the law of worship which founds or establishes the law of belief. Belief does not come first, then worship, but rather worship produces belief.
Today, psychology is providing evidence that behavior, e.g., worship, produces feelings. For example, in "Feelings," James D. Laird argues that feelings do not cause behavior, but rather follow from behavior, and are, in fact, the way that we know about our own bodily states and behaviors. James W. Pennebaker points out that emotions, motivation, and other private feelings are inferred from our behaviors rather than being directly perceived. Stuart Walton writes in "A Natural History of Human Emotions" that this idea goes back at least to Charles Darwin, who in "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" (1872), contended that all humans everywhere have the same basic set of innate and constitutive emotions that are expressed by two kinds of muscular action: facial expression and bodily movement. We communicate these emotions to others often quite involuntarily as the result of instinct, rather than by learned behavior. Everyone worldwide recognizes and “reads” them similarly. Thus, we and those observing us may sense particular emotions while performing particular actions in worship, and, as Joseph Ledoux writes in "The Emotional Brain," emotions can produce conscious feelings, which, in turn, can lead to belief.
Viewing liturgy through the lens of non-realism, then brings meaning, a hallmark of belief, into focus. God can be the name and the marker for the meaning we find together in worship. God, as meaning, appears horizontally among worshipers; we understand that God in the vertical, supernatural direction is an exciting special effect produced as we together find God in our church of non-realism, in our theater of feelings.
But aren’t our feelings an unreliable basis for a real God? Yes, indeed. Feelings are erratic and fleeting, i. e., often they are over before they are identified or named. They come and go; they are conscious, but represent only some of our emotions, most of which are unconscious and not subject to our control. Thus, feelings, and more so, emotions, can be dangerous, which can heighten our anxiety. Furthermore, feelings can be hard to conceptualize, verbalize, and understand. They, like emotions, are virtually impossible to stop or control while happening and, once gone, may be hard or impossible to summon up again. Thus, feelings are like life as Cupitt describes it: finite, time-bound, contingent, unpredictable, transitory, and impermanent. Our feelings, quick, acute, and intuitive, tell us we are alive, and as insubstantial as feelings are, they are the basis of our life, our experience. They suffuse our experiences, including our religious experiences.
However, if our awareness of God comes from our feelings and experiences, we soon learn that supernatural ways of thinking “improve” our God experiences, preserving them perfectly and unchanging, as Peter would have done on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ light shone before the disciples. But, of course, as Jesus knew, experiences can’t be preserved, but must be lived, even to death.
We yearn to be sure of something other than death, and, indeed, Cupitt writes, language is a sure basis for our philosophy and religion. Ordinary language (heightened in popular songs) is necessary for us to function as humans in society. Although language is the basis of society and religion, language is totally contingent, developing by trial and error, and open to continuing future change, evolving over (a long) time by consensus. We are born into a world where our language is a given, but it is a given hammered out by agreements arrived at by society’s members over the years, changing as new needs arise and old ones fade.
Therefore, using the theatrical analogy, our play of God is always in rewrite with many varied incarnations. One scenario, sketched here, presents some Christian concepts through the facial expressions, movements, and language of the actors, who thereby convey Darwin’s six basic, facially legible emotions -- happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise – using some of the physical indicators he identified. Other emotions or states of mind, including contempt (which Darwin gave indicators for), love, hope, and joy are mentioned, and even though the presentation of these may not be as clear as that of the basic six, they may be suggested with the addition of dialogue. The emotions, feelings, and experiences produced in church may be thought of and spoken of as religious. In keeping with Cupitt’s contention that people use ordinary language for their religious experiences, ordinary, non-religious, in preference to “religious,” language and songs are used as much as possible.

A Play for the Theater of Feelings
In this scenario, the play has a prologue, two acts, and a conclusion. In the prologue, we see God happy: smiling, laughing, dancing, and clapping, while drawing our attention to the nifty supernatural set, painted by the likes of Michelangelo and Chagall, and at the same time singing the anthem to non-realism: “Say, it's only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea, But it wouldn't be make believe, If you believed in me.”
In Act I, “By the River,” a presentation of feelings aroused by Rom 6: 3-11, we first see a roiling, fast moving, and apparently deep river with many people on the shore and in the water. Bullies are pulling, pushing or dragging others into the water and holding them under.
We sense the bullies’ contempt. They uncover their canine teeth on one side, snort, and turn up their noses as they manhandle their weaker fellows. We also know that the bullies are angry. Their faces are flushed, their eyes wide open, and their breathing accelerated. They grind their teeth, clench their fists, and incline their bodies towards their victims. We also see the bullies’ disgust by their wide opened mouths, their spitting, their blowing through protruded lips, and the retraction of their upper lips.
The tormented, struggling to the surface and breathing again, show, after the shock of the cold water, surprise at breathing again. They open their eyes and mouths wide and inhale suddenly. Of course, their flailing limbs and contorted expressions convey mainly fear. They are pale, breathe fast, and have dilated pupils and contracted neck muscles.
We in the audience empathize. We either cheer on the bullies or yell to those drowning to resist more vigorously. Of course, others may be drowning on their own without any bullying. Some, by their bold move into the river, convey misplaced self-confidence. Others look sad. The corners of their mouths are drawn down, they are pale, and their muscles and eyelids droop; they seem to be seeking drowning.
As this scene unfolds, we become aware of another group near the shore. By their calm expressions and open stance, they convey empathy for all, including the bullies, the tormented, the confident, the despairing, and all the rest in danger of drowning. They don’t turn away to avoid the perils of the river, but gesture in invitation to act as supporting guides for all those who would enter the river. Many of the guides are singing: “Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, Gather with the saints at the river, That flows by the throne of God.” Some whom the guides put down into the river come up screaming at the shock of immersion. Others, before going in, show fear, cringing back from the deep, cold, rapidly rushing river and tensing up with possibility of going under, losing control, not being able to breath, suffocating, and dying. But some, who accept the invitation, show by their relaxation into their guides, a tentative, but growing trust and confidence that their loving guides, while putting them under, won’t abandon them as they are drowning. And, yes, some of these, upon being brought up, may show, by their tears of joy, happiness at being able to breathe again, to live again. Thus, this non-real drowning can engender as toward God real emotions and feelings of happiness and gratitude that people might feel upon being brought back to life from death.
Act II, “Walking, Talking, Breaking,” describes feelings upon reading Luke 24: 13-32. The first scene shows two people walking along a dusty road. Their slow pace, slumped shoulders, downcast expression, and desultory talk convey sadness. They are joined by a man who asks what they are discussing. The two continue to show sadness while telling him about the crucifixion of Jesus but soon show flashes of anger as they point out that his death, at the hands of both the Jewish and Roman authorities, has dashed their hopes that he would free Israel.
Now, added to their anger, is the memory of their surprise at the tale of some female followers of Jesus, who said that early that morning they saw his tomb empty and angels who said he was alive. The two walkers tell the stranger that other followers of Jesus also went to the tomb and found it empty but hadn’t seen him. As the walkers recount the women’s story to this male stranger, contempt replaces their surprise (“You know how these silly women are. They’re always seeing things.”) But they are still bewildered that the others have confirmed the empty tomb.
The stranger’s response is tinged with anger. He is provoked and irked by the walkers’ slowness to perceive the meaning of the crucifixion in light of the promise of Israel’s redemption. He shows exasperation at their distrust and refusal to imagine the Messiah’s glory. Their critical thinking has reinforced their fear of death and prevented them from entering into the women’s vision. For them, the promise is unreal; not yet non-real. They have not yet embraced their post-critical naïveté to allow them to experience the promise in their theater of feelings, where hope might contend with fear.
However, in the second scene, later at the walkers’ home, as they see the stranger breaking bread, their eyes are opened, and they know Jesus again, even as he vanishes. They have yet to name the emotion they sense: It is happiness, the physical indicators of which are the brightening of the eyes, a quickening of the circulation, and the coloring of the complexion. This is a good description of the physical correlates to their experience, described in Luke, of “our hearts burning within us,” as Jesus opened the promise to them.
But, of course, their experience was deeper than happiness; it was joy. As Huston Smith remarks about the early Christians in "The Soul of Christianity," “...they had laid hold of an inner peace that found expression in a joy that was uncontainable.” They radiated joy as the sun radiates light. Their post-critical naïveté, no longer fairy dust, now lit them from within. Cupitt writes that we, like them, should emulate the sun, which shines now without regard to whether it will shine in the future or whether it will shine again when it dies. So, in joy, we attempt to make Jesus’ words real: “...do not worry about your life...but strive first for the kingdom of God...”
As Jesus vanishes and our play concludes, we hear a voice: “The play is over.” The doors of the church swing open, and, as we leave, we look back and see the empty set where just awhile ago God sang and danced. Back in the real world, we will again grapple with sadness, anger, fear, disgust, contempt, surprise, and happiness. But, feeling God singing within us, we radiate joy.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bishop Spong on the Atonement

Bishop Spong in his essay this week on the death of Jesus as atonement unwittingly, apparently, makes the point that S. Mark Heim makes in his book, "Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross." This point is that the Passion narratives, building on their sources in the Hebrew Bible, expose the scapegoating mechanism of the crucifixion, rather than hiding this mechanism, as is usual in most scapegoating myths. In these myths, the whole point is to hide the death deemed necessary to bring peace to the community, thus making scapegoating a good and necessary event without exposing the cost which is the death of the scapegoat. Another point of many such myths is that God demands the scapegoating, and God demands it over and over again.
The Hebrew Bible and the Passion narratives make scapegoating visible, as Bishop Spong does in his essay. That such exposure makes us uncomfortable is a major point of the Passion. We recoil from the violence and hatred scapegoating entails and say, “Surely, no good God would want or require this,” and we are correct. However, until we fully recognize our tendency to solve our problems by scapegoating, we continue to do it. We can only reverse this tendency when we bring it to consciousness and determine not to participate in sacrifice. As Heim writes, “...to surmount a moment of crisis without turning to sacrifice is one of the true simple signs of the reign of God.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

“Love Your Enemies” – A Reflection on “Suite Française”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to his listeners: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). In “Dolce,” the second novella in Irène Némirosky’s “Suite Française,” love of the enemy is exactly what happens among some French women left to cope with the German occupation of their village during World War II. With all their men dead or prisoners of war far away, the women of the village are deeply affected by the enemy soldiers in their midst. Some resist the attraction they feel toward the handsome, polite soldiers. Others remain implacable in their hatred of the enemy, while yet others fall in love, and tell themselves, and anyone who challenges them, that only love matters.
Lucile Angellier, the main character of “Dolce,” works hard against increasing mutual attraction to maintain a polite distance between herself and the handsome, cultured, French-speaking German officer, Bruno, who is billeted in Lucile’s mother-in-law’s house, where Lucile also lives. She married the son of the house, now a prisoner of war, in a loveless arrangement, much as Bruno did. They read to one another, take walks in the garden, and he plays the piano for her. They both endure the contempt of Lucile’s mother-in-law, who hates Lucile as unworthy of her son, whom she idealizes, as much as she hates the Germans.
Lucile realizes that to fall in love with Bruno is to collaborate with the enemy, but others risk being branded collaborators for love. In one of the most powerful scenes in this powerful novella, Lucile brings a piece of silk to a dressmaker to be made into a dressing gown and sees a German soldier's belt on the bed. Recoiling, she murmurs,

“How can you?”
The dressmaker responds, “So what? German or French, friend or enemy, he's first and foremost a man and I'm a woman. He's good to me, kind, attentive... He’s a city boy who takes care of himself, not like the boys around here; he has beautiful skin, white teeth. When he kisses, his breath smells fresh, not of alcohol. And that's good enough for me. I’m not looking for anything else. Our lives are complicated enough with all these wars and bombings. Between a man and a woman, none of that’s important. I couldn't care less if the man I fancy is English or black – I'd still offer myself to him if I got the opportunity. Do I disgust you? Sure, it’s all right for you, you’re rich, you have luxuries I don’t have...”
“Luxuries!” Lucile cut in, sounding bitter without meaning to, wondering what the dressmaker could imagine might be luxurious an existence as an Angellier: visiting her estate and investing money, no doubt.
"You're educated. You see people. For us, it's nothing but slaving at work. If it wasn't for love, we might as well just throw ourselves in the river. And when I say love, don't think it’s only about you know what. Listen, the other day this German, he was at Moulins and he bought me a little imitation crocodile handbag; another time he brought me flowers, a bouquet from town, like I was a lady. It’s stupid, I know, because there are flowers all over the countryside, but he cared, it made me happy. Up until now, to me men were just good for a tumble. But this one, I don't know why, I’d do anything for him, follow him anywhere. And he loves me, he does... Oh, I've known enough men to tell when there's one who's not lying. So, you see, when people say to me ‘He’s German, a German, a German,’ I couldn't care less. They're human, like us.”
“Yes, but my poor girl, when people say ‘a German,’ of course know he's just a man, but what they mean to say, what is so terrible, is that he's killed Frenchmen, that they're holding our relatives prisoner, that they're starving us..."
"You think I never think about that? Sometimes, when I'm lying in bed next to him, I wonder, ‘Maybe it was his father who killed mine’ (my dad was killed in the last war, you know ...). I think about it for a while then, in the end, I don't give a damn. On one side there's me and on the other side there's everyone else. People don't care about us: they bomb us and make us suffer, and kill us worse than if we were rabbits. And as for us, well, we don't care about them. You see, if we did what other people thought we should do we’d be worse than animals. Around town they call me a dog. Well, I'm not. Dogs travel in packs and bite people when they're told to. Me and Willy..."
She stopped and sighed.
“I love him,” she said finally.
“But his regiment will be leaving.”
“I know that, but Willy said he'd send for me after the war.”
“And you believe him?”
“Yes, I believe him,” she said defiantly.
“You’re mad,” said Lucile. “He'll forget you the moment he's gone. You have brothers who are prisoners. When they come home... Believe me, be careful. What you’re doing is very dangerous. Dangerous and wrong,” she added.
“When they come home...”
They looked at each other in silence. There was a rich, secret scent in this stuffy room, cluttered with heavy rustic furniture, that troubled Lucile and made her feel strangely uneasy.

Lucile feels uneasy, no doubt, because she can’t deny that she feels much the same about Bruno as the dressmaker feels about Willy.
If we are to love our enemies, how can we do it? The love Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount is agape. The love of the dressmaker is clearly eros. Although distinct, these forms of love are closely related. In his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI makes the point that, as one receives love and gives it to another, the desire for (eros) is united to a desire for the good of (agape.) The more love grows, the more one wants to be present to the other – eros becomes agape and enriches the experience of love. Thus, the dressmaker proclaims, “I’d do anything for him, follow him anywhere.” She feels not only eros, but also agape, which has grown with the relationship.
Can we love our enemies without falling in love with them? If our emotions are involved, as they must be in love, it seems unlikely, and we risk the scorn – and worst – of our fellows. Love sometimes exacts a very high price.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gov. Spitzer in Action

Gov. Spitzer of New York supports gay marriage “as a simple moral imperative.” He’s got it right. It’s simple because all that it will require is a small change in state law. It’s moral because it is fair: Such a law would recognize that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights (and must assume the same responsibilities) as heterosexual couples. It’s an imperative because many fair-minded people, both straight and gay, understand now that such a glaring inequity tears the social fabric, and perpetuates a group of disenfranchised citizens, who are treated by government as less than heterosexual people.
Furthermore, there is a clear religious mandate for this moral imperative, and it turns on fairness and inclusiveness. For example, the Acts of the Apostles records Saint Peter’s dawning awareness that God loves everyone, not only the Chosen people (who God never ceases to love). As Peter’s awareness dawns, he declares in Chapter 10, verses 34 and 35: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Clearly, Peter has heard the Gospel and is proclaiming it. Religious people can follow Peter’s example.
Even though gay marriage is a simple moral imperative, enacting such a law will not be easy. The Republicans will be unlikely to embrace it. Many of the churches, notably the Roman Catholic Church, will denounce the possibility of such a law in the name of strengthening heterosexual families, even though homosexual families don’t weaken heterosexual families. And the Democrats have already started to bob and weave around the idea, trying not to alienate gays, while pandering to bigots. Obviously, being two-faced never works.
So, thank you Gov. Spitzer for your leadership on this issue. I wish you well and I support you. I hope that all fair-minded New Yorkers will also support your efforts for fairness.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Senator Obama, take the lead to control guns

I sent this message to Barack Obama, and I'm sending it to my U.S. representative, Ron Klein.

After the tragedy in Virginia, it is time for you, Senator Obama, to take the lead in working for the passage of a strong federal gun control law. It is much too easy to obtain guns in too many states, and gun ownership should be much more severely limited than it is now. Too many unstable people have guns. If gun ownership were more restricted with more thorough background checks on people wanting guns, then senseless shootings like the one in Virginia would be less likely.
Of course, any attempt to control guns will be met with vigorous opposition from the gun lobby, but please be aware that the number of people wanting gun control far outnumber those wanting unlimited access to guns. If you take the lead on this important issue, I’m sure you will gain the support of many people who want sensible, restrictive gun laws in the U.S.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lutherans in Action...Backwards

On March 23rd, I posted a news item that the Church of Sweden Church of Sweden would perform gay weddings if the Swedish Parliament upgraded the country's civil unions to same-sex marriage. I called the post, “Lutherans in Action.” Now, in the April 17th issue of “The Christian Century,” comes news that the Church of Sweden will reserve matrimony for heterosexual couples. In making this decision, the article states, “the church (of Sweden) went against the recommendation of a Swedish government commission to accept both same-sex and heterosexual relationships within the legal framework of marriage.” So, my hope that the Church of Sweden had heard the Gospel was premature.
My first thought about this is that the people are always ahead of the church leaders theologically. The people hear the Gospel clearly: Discrimination is unfair. Most people say, be fair and treat everyone equally, as the Gospels say Jesus did. So the Swedish government, the organ of the people, wants to include gays in marriage.
In contrast, the church leaders are afraid of the bigots in the church and kowtow to them. They don’t seek fairness, but “unity,” trying to keep everyone happy. Homosexuals are a minority in the church and society, so the leaders feel safe in sacrificing them on the altar of “unity.’ The church is better off, anyway, they say, without those nasty queers, doing their nasty acts.
My second thought is about Janis Vanags who is an exemplar of the type of leader I’m thinking of above. Mr. Vanags is Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. The “Christian Century” article states that “His church believes that homosexuality is a sin, he said, and that people should repent of their sins and seek forgiveness, just as Martin Luther advised. The article concludes by reporting that African participants (in the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, where Mr. Vanags gave his remarks) congratulated the Latvian archbishop after his speech for his forthrightness.”
Notice that Mr. Vanags didn’t say that homosexuals can be sinners. No, he said that homosexuality is a sin. The state of homosexuality is a sin, he maintains. He states this in the face of mounting evidence that homosexuality is a natural, biological variant among many sexualities. For the evidence of this, read “Born Gay?: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation” by Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman. This stance by Mr. Vanags recalls earlier witch-hunts against left-handed people. Remember “sinister” originally meant “relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something” and “of ill omen by reason of being on the left.” So, now we gays, like left-handed people in the past, are the object of witch-hunts by prominent church people, like Mr. Vanags and his African allies in the Lutheran Church.
Of course, all this makes me angry, but being a Christian and a layperson, I believe that the Gospel will be heard, even by our nasty leaders. When they do hear, it’s likely to because lay people won’t go along with their bigotry.
So, lay people, keep complaining about your nasty leaders. They will eventually follow your Gospel call.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The I-Rack

Will Hutchinson sent me the URL below, which is for a video called I-Rack. It's funny and true.

The Democratic Presidential Candidates on Iraq as of April 10th

As you may know, I am a member of MoveOn, the political action group on the Internet. On April 10th, MoveOn held a “virtual town meeting,” at which the Democratic presidential candidates presented their views on Iraq. The transcript of their remarks, below, is interesting mainly because of their different emphases. However, in my mind, the question remains: which one would be most effective in extricating us from Iraq?

Transcript of the Audio Highlights from MoveOn’s “Virtual Town Meeting”with the Democratic presidential candidates

Eli Pariser (EP): Hello MoveOn members, this is Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, welcoming you to our first-ever Virtual Town Hall. Our first presidential candidate of the evening, Senator John Edwards.
JE: First of all, let me say that for the past nine months MoveOn members have accomplished amazing things. Thanks to your relentless grassroots pressure you’ve actually helped shift the national debate about ending the war in Iraq from a question of “if” to a question of “how soon.”
As you probably know, I voted for this war. I was wrong, and I take responsibility for that.
Everyday that this war drags on is worse for Iraq, worse for our troops, worse for our country.
This is not the time for political calculation, this is the time for political courage. This is not a game of chicken, this is not about making friends, or keeping Joe Lieberman happy, this is about life and death. This is about war.
If Bush vetoes funding for the troops he is the only one standing in the way of the resources they need, nobody else.
Congress must stand firm. They must not write George Bush another blank check without a timeline for withdrawal. Period. If Bush vetoes the funding bill, Congress should send another funding bill to him with a binding plan to bring the troops home.
If we show courage now, we can finally bring our troops home and bring this war to an end. So where will Congress find the courage to stand firm? I’ll tell you where they’ll find it, they’ll find it in your letters, they’ll find it in your calls, they will find it in your voice.
EP: Senator Edwards, we thank you so much. Next up we’ll hear from Senator Joe Biden.
JB: To be responsible, one has to be able to answer a two-word question in my view, after you put forward what you think should be done. And that is, “Then what?” After we pull our troops out, then what? After we cap troops, then what? After we cut partial funding, then what?
The problem in Iraq today is a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence.
To maintain a unified Iraq, you have to decentralize it. You have to give the Kurds, Sunnis and Shias control over the fabric of their daily lives.
Secondly, you have to have a limited central government.
Thirdly, you have to secure access to oil revenues for the Sunnis who literally have nothing.
Fourth, you have to increase reconstruction assistance for Iraq, but you have to raise that money from the oil-rich Gulf states who are floating in a sea of oil money.
And lastly, you have to make Iraq the world’s problem.
We should begin to draw down American combat troops within the next three months, and have a date of getting us out of Iraq by March of ’08. That is the essence of my plan. That is the only, in my view, workable solution for ending the war in Iraq and preserving our interest.
Leaving Iraq is absolutely necessary, but it’s not a plan, it doesn’t answer the critical question, “then what?”
EP: Thank you Senator Biden for participating in our Virtual Town Hall meeting on Iraq. Our next candidate is Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
DK: Thank you. I had the vision and the foresight to be able to say, “Don’t go to war.” And gave reasons why not. And since then, you know, I’ve delivered over 160 speeches on the floor of the House.
Stop the funding, end the occupation, withdraw the troops, as you close the bases, create a parallel process which involves the United Nations, move those troops in as our troops leave.
We need to reach out to the world community, and that means the president of the United States is going to have to be involved in a lot of personal diplomacy. Reaching out to all the nations in the region, making it possible for them to know that the United States is going to take a new direction, that we’re not going to endorse any kind of policies that would put us on the threshold of attacking other nations.
When you consider who you’re going to support, you’ve got to consider who had the judgment and the wisdom to say, “We should avoid the war in the first place.” I not only voted against the war, but I urged members of Congress not to support the war, I, you know, I voted against each and every appropriation. And it’s so important to remember. So I’m standing not only for peace from the beginning of this, but have the plan to get out of Iraq, and have a vision of the world that is interdependent and interconnected, and a country which stands upon the principle and the imperative of human unity.
EP: Thanks again, Congressman Kucinich. And now, we’re going to hear from Governor Bill Richardson.
BR: I want to thank you, Eli, and all the members of MoveOn that are participating in today’s town hall. If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year. I would have no residual force whatsoever.
We have to look at Iraq not in an isolated way. We have to look at the whole Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and you get Iran and Syria to invest in the stability of the region. This will be tough. This will be difficult, but the full force of American withdrawal, the full force of American diplomacy, and the full force of bringing other entities, Europe, Muslim countries in the region for a solution will give Iraq a chance.
It’s the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and to stop a war.
I am for a timetable of withdrawal. I would be for a cut-off of appropriations. What I would do however is one step further. This Congress, several years ago, the Republican Congress, authorized this war. I would pass a congressional resolution de-authorizing the war based on the War Powers Act.
I believe I am the best candidate. I may not be a rock star. I may not have the most money. But I believe I have the best vision, the best background to be president.
EP: Thank you Governor Richardson. Next up, we’ll hear from Senator Hillary Clinton.
HC: Now first we’ve got to face up to the reality that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. It is not improving, and all the happy talk in the world will not fix the grim reality on the ground. My plan to end the war confronts that reality head on. I introduced legislation called the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act. Under it, we would begin redeployment of our troops out of Iraq in 90 days.
I have long advocated engagement with countries in the region, including Iran and Syrian. And I applaud Speaker Pelosi and her delegation for going to the region, as I applaud the Republican delegations that did likewise. We have to start a process to deal with those countries. Now as you know, Congress recently passed historic legislation to both fund our troops and begin a phased redeployment to bring them home. The president has threatened to veto it. And I have said repeatedly that the American people elected this Congress to bring our troops home, not to send more troops to purse a failed strategy. I have challenged the president to withdraw this veto threat immediately. So everyday in the Senate I’m working to change course in Iraq.
I am absolutely clear, we do not plan a permanent occupation, or permanent bases. But in line with all of the legislation that has been passed, we have tried to be responsible in saying, there may be some continuing missions to protect America’s vital interests and to support an Iraqi government that we hope to be an ally going forward, assuming they are acting responsibly.
Some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, but I am grateful for your work. I remember when you started, and how important it was, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the years ahead on the important issues facing our country and the world.
EP: Thanks again Senator Clinton.
HC: Thank you so much Eli.
EP: Next, let’s welcome Senator Chris Dodd.
CD: Well I believe we that ought to begin redeploying our troops this evening. I’m the one that believes, as others have stated, that there’s no military solution at all in Iraq. I’ve felt that for the last several years. So I believe that we ought to start redeploying this evening, and over the next year we can do that very safely, provide all the support our troops would need.
So begin redeploying immediately. Have things finished in March of ’08. Talk about a surge in diplomacy, a surge in politics in the region which is not had at all, which is recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report and then also talk about energy independence. I think those are critical areas if we are going to be successful. But we ought to begin immediately, I would not wait any longer.
I believe the president should seek authority from Congress in advance to take military action against Iran or any other state for that matter. Now under extreme circumstances, unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, I think it would be appropriate for the president, any president, to act to repel, but even after that, it seems to me, after the emergency, the president ought to come back to congress, and succeed in getting that authority.
I believe we need new structures and new architectures. It’s not only important that we talk about what needs to be done to get out of Iraq, but what do we do in the post-Iraq period. I want to see an area of constructive, bold engagement by the United States, where we rebuild the relationships, where the United States is seen once again as a source of good works as a country. Where we condemn torture, not condone it. Where we end wars, not start them. Where we engage the world in part of a smart decision to allow all of us to live in a better opportunity, a better hope, and prosperity for all people.
EP: Thanks so much for joining us Senator Dodd. And now, our last candidate of the day, Senator Barack Obama.
BO: As you know, I opposed this war from the start. In part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002 that we would have an open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now.
The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving, because it take a security detail of a hundred soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible.
Since January I have put forward a very specific plan that is designed to create the last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and the Shia to reach political accommodation.
Well I’ve been saying for a year that we have to realize that the entire Middle East has a huge stake in the outcome of Iraq. And that we have to engage neighboring countries in finding a solution. I believe that includes opening dialogue with both Syria and Iran. We know these countries want us to fail, I’m under no illusions there, but I also know that neither Syria nor Iran want to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, and terrorism, and refugees and violence.
Those who say we shouldn’t be talking to them ignore our own history. Ronald Reagan, during the Cold War, called the Soviet Union the “evil empire” but he consistently met with the Soviet Union because he recognized that power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster.
I am committed to putting as much pressure on the president to end this war as possible, in a responsible fashion.
Assuming he vetoes the bill—I’m committed to finding the 67 votes we need to override this veto. I would support putting conditions on the next version of the legislation if we can’t muster 67 votes.
If this president thinks he can continue to ignore the will of the American people, and the American Congress, I think he’s badly mistaken. With your help, I believe we’re going to be able to bring our troops home, I believe we are going to refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and, as importantly, I think we have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring America’s image throughout the world.
EP: Thank you again, Senator Obama. Democracy is a process. And everyone who joined us tonight has taken part in it. We hope you’ll be with us for the next two town hall meetings on health care and global warming, and, to all of our members, we at MoveOn really can’t say it enough. Thank you for all that you do. Good night.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Saints in love

I just read a funny novel about a Holocaust survivor and a neo-Nazi. Now, usually neither surviving the Holocaust nor being a neo-Nazi is funny, but Francine Prose, the author of “A Changed Man,” has created two people who are not merely representative of their respective categories, but are also engaging. They want to do good, but are not disinterested do-gooders. Prose shows us that saintliness can’t be separated from self-interest.
Of the two characters, Meyer Maslow, the Holocaust survivor, is the more obviously saintly. Having escaped death as a Jew in World War II Europe, he now heads the World Brotherhood Watch Foundation in Manhattan. This foundation works to save victims of human rights violations and, in so doing, to encourage the world to fight such violations. Maslow feels himself God’s agent on earth and knows what God expects of him, which is self-giving. The trouble is that Maslow has a foundation to maintain and publicize, and this requires that he raise money on the benefit circuit in New York. Raising money means that he always has to be concerned about his success in attracting favorable publicity and, as a result, money. It’s hard to be a saint sucking up to publicists and potential donors.
Enter Vincent Nolan, the neo-Nazi member of ARM, or the Aryan Resistance Movement, who, having read about Maslow’s organization, decides to go to Maslow and tell him, ''I want to help you guys save guys like me from becoming guys like me,'' and, in the process, reform himself. So, Nolan also feels the stirrings of something like saintliness. Never mind that to get to the foundation, he steals the Chevy pickup of his cousin and fellow ARM member, along with his drug stash and $1500. It’s all for a higher calling.
Once at the foundation’s office, he is handed over to Bonnie Kalen, Maslow’s assistant and chief acolyte, who is devoted to him and his cause beyond reason.
Bonnie introduces Nolan to Maslow, who sees Nolan as an answer to his prayers to find a way to sell out a big upcoming benefit for the support of the foundation’s work. Nolan, the changed man, will demonstrate that the work of the foundation can change people for the better “one person at a time.” All Bonnie has to do is all the work.
Maslow suggests that Bonnie take Nolan into her modest house in the suburbs, where she is raising her two sons after her divorce. All Bonnie has to do, in her devotion to Maslow, is to hope that the neo-Nazi won’t slaughter her and her children in the comfort of her own home.
Of course, what happens is not slaughter but love. Living uneasily with Nolan, Bonnie and her kids begin to accept him, depend on him, and to love him. He in turn finds himself a possible home and family. What Prose is saying is that disinterested saintliness doesn’t accomplish much. Rather, mountains are moved by strong emotions. In the case of the Holocaust, hate and anger wreaked havoc on millions. With Bonnie and Nolan on a much smaller scale, the strong emotion of love is the motive for helpful acts and mended lives.
So, maybe the moral of Prose’s novel is that if you want to do good and be saintly, fall in love first.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rep. Klein, work to get the U.S out of Iraq sooner than later

Below is a letter from Ron Klein, my U.S. representative here in the 22nd district of Florida. I am heartened that Rep. Klein has voted on various measures that will begin a slow, painful process of getting the U.S. out of Iraq. He is taking a rather cautious approach, and, I think, it’s because he is “testing the waters” trying to determine whether his constituents are supporting his approach and his votes. This constituent certainly supports his votes, and I urge him to be bolder in his efforts to get the U.S. out of Iraq sooner than later. I urge all of his constituents likewise to advocate to him a speedy withdrawal.
There are many reasons to work for our withdrawal as soon as possible, but the most important single reason is, as his letter points out, that already over 3,000 American troops have died, and over 22,000 have been seriously wounded in action in this “religious civil war.” Rep. Klein, work as vigorously as you can to stop the killing and maiming of Americans.
Here is his letter:

March 30, 2007

Dear Peter,
Thank you for contacting my office regarding your opposition to the war in Iraq . I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
You will be pleased to know that I voted in favor of H.R. 1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. This legislation requires the Iraqi government and people to stand up to their responsibilities and sets benchmarks for the Government of Iraq. It also requires redeployment of the U.S. armed forces from Iraq if any of these benchmarks are not met. In addition, it prohibits the deployment of our armed forces unless the chief of the military department determines that they are adequately trained and equipped.
Finally, this bill provides emergency supplemental FY2007 appropriations to our military (including funds for Iraqi and Afghan security forces), to our veterans programs (to improve healthcare for returning service members and veterans), and a number of other specified activities relating to the global war on terror. This bill passed the House of Representatives by a recorded vote of 218 to 212 and is now pending in the Senate.
In addition to this bill, I voted in favor of H.Con.Res. 63, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 246 to 182. This house resolution calls for the continued support of our troops while condemning the decision of the President, announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
Please know that I support a phased withdrawal of our armed forces under the direction and recommendation of our top military experts. Putting more troops in harms way without providing a system of accountability will only further compound our problems in Iraq. And so far, I've seen no real proof that a system of accountability exists. Additionally, it is unacceptable that four years into the war, we still receive reports of inadequate supplies, a growing insurgent threat, and less stability.
Evidence has been presented that very little progress has been made training Iraqi troops and national police forces, both of which have been infiltrated by the insurgents and the terrorists. It is unacceptable to keep our troops in the middle of a religious civil war.
This Administration chose to commit our troops to a war without creating a comprehensive exit strategy and the consequences have been devastating. Over 3,000 American troops have died, and over 22,000 have been seriously wounded in action.
I fully support our troops and will vote for measures that keeps them well equipped and ensures their safe return to the U.S. However, I will continue to demand the Administration change course in Iraq. Too often, this Administration has failed to learn from its mistakes in Iraq, wasting billions in taxpayer dollars. We should not make the same mistakes again. Please know that I will keep your thoughts firmly in my mind as I monitor the increasingly grave situation in Iraq.
Thank you again for writing. Please contact me if there's any way I can be of assistance to you in the future. I hope you'll find my website (www.house.gov/ronklein) useful in keeping up with events in Washington and the 22nd District of Florida.
Ron Klein
Member of Congress

Friday, March 30, 2007

On TV: “Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites”

Last night on PBS, we watched “Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites,” a PBS documentary. In about three and a half hours, the stories of the Jews are re-told, using fairly lively mise-en-scènes, voiceovers of actors reading biblical passages, and commentary from on-screen experts who provide context and insights. We move from the calling out of Abraham, to the Exodus, to Mt Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, to the stories of David, to the Babylonian exile, to the return to Jerusalem, to the rise of the Pharisees, to the life of Jesus, to the destruction of the second temple, to the development of rabbinic Judaism and the Talmud, and to the growth of the Jewish Diaspora, fueled first by the Romans who expelled the Jews from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and then by Christians who became progressively more anti-Semitic as they sought to discredit and destroy Judaism, which they saw as a rival religion. The last section, “The Gifts of the Jews” shows how rabbinic Judaism with its emphasis on scripture study and vigorous debate about scripture’s meaning led to Judaism’s great gifts to the world: the rights of the individual and the rule of law.
This is not a conventional history about events, rulers, and dates although these themes are present. Instead the program focuses on how the telling of stories in a group can forge the group’s identity. In exile in Babylon, the Judeans from Jerusalem no longer had the temple as the center of their religious devotion, so, as not to lose their stories, they told them to each other and then wrote them down, beginning the development of the Hebrew Bible. When they returned to Jerusalem, they brought the stories with them and continued to tell them, even as the second temple became the center once more of Jewish devotion. With the destruction of the second temple, the teachers of scripture and tradition, the rabbis, realized slowly that if the Jews were to survive it would be as a people who followed the God brought to life through the stories in the Book, the Bible. So the Jews wherever they found themselves were the People of the Book.
The modern, almost Non-Realistic sensibility of the commentators was made clear by their pointing out that when the Temple stood, God was thought to be “really” present in the Temple. However, with the destruction of the Temple, where was God? The commentators suggest that in doing the will of God, particularly for others and, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, the “widow, the orphan, and the stranger,” we manifest God to ourselves and to others. So, by performing the commandants, we “re-present” God. The stories may indicate the God is “above the sky,” but we only experience God through performing and receiving acts of justice and mercy. This a great gift of understanding, indeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Getting Screwed and Loving It

My sister Carolyn sent me the video, “A Little Role Playing: Bush and the Country,” below. It’s very funny in a sick sort of way and very true. For six years now, we’ve loved being screwed by Bush, but, now, are we getting a little tired of his brand of loving?
Let me know whether you’re ready to have him get off of you.

Do You belong to a Sissy Church?

Do you belong to a sissy church? That’s the question raised by “For Some Black Pastors, Accepting Gay Members Means Losing Others,” an article in the March 27th “New York Times.” The article discusses the Rev. Dennis Meredith who stopped preaching against homosexuals when one of his sons came out to him as a gay person. Now Mr. Meredith preaches greater acceptance of gay people, but he has seen changes in his congregation. As gays joined, many of the older members left and withdrew their financial support. When the head deacon left, he told Mr. Meredith that he had turned the congregation into “a sissy church.”
So, acceptance of homosexuals definitely exacts a price on a congregation: plummeting attendance and financial hardship. No wonder most churches don’t want us. Acceptance may be the Gospel, but practically speaking, it’s bad news. Why can’t we just go back into the closet and make everyone happy? Everyone, that is, except those gays who are tired of living a lie.
I wish Mr. Meredith well. Maybe his congregation will attract some rich homosexuals who will make up the shortfall. Then it will be a solvent sissy church.

Rep. Klein, your newsletter leaves out Iraq

An open letter to Ron Klein, U.S. Representative from District 22 in Florida:
Dear Rep. Klein,
I got your newsletter yesterday. It’s a nice job; it tells us, according to the list on the right, that you are going to help us with a wide range of issues: from agriculture to welfare. I’m all for your dealing agriculture, welfare, and everything else on the list, but what about the issue not on the list: Iraq? Are you sure that none of your constituents cares about Iraq, so you left it off the list? You just voted to establish a timetable for getting out of Iraq. There is no mention of your vote in your newsletter. You are a member of the House foreign relations committee, but “foreign relations” is not on the list. Are we also not interested in foreign relations and our biggest foreign headache, Iraq?
You shouldn’t run away from Iraq and its problems. Many of us voted for you, because you would put the resolution of the Iraq war front and center in your tenure as representative. But, apparently, you’d like to ignore Iraq, in the hopes that it will go away. Rep. Klein, Iraq is not going away, nor is our responsibility for the resolution of the mess there.
You can be a leader by giving Iraq an important place in your newsletter and in your time in the House.
Peter McNamara

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rep. Klein changes his mind

Rep. Klein has changed his mind. On Friday, March 23rd, he voted in the House of Representatives to set a timetable for getting out of Iraq, while on February 22nd, at a town meeting here in South Florida, he said that a timetable was a bad idea, and he won’t vote for one. So, he has changed his mind.
O.K., big deal, politicians change their minds all the time; it shouldn’t surprise us. This time I was surprised, because he changed his mind probably for the not-so-usual reasons. Usually, politicians change their minds when somebody comes along with a big wad of money, and says how easy it would be, just this once, to be reasonable, to be realistic, and to get along by going along.
Maybe money changed hands this time, too, but I prefer to think that a civics miracle happened. Enough people, ordinary people without wads of cash to give away, emailed him and phoned him to tell him to vote for the deadline. Now, as a result, maybe, just maybe, the killing will end sooner than later.
I’m particularly gratified by this outcome after watching “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) last night on our local PBS station here in south Florida. Set in 1948, in Nuremberg, Germany, Spencer Tracy is Dan Haywood, a smalltime judge from Maine, charged with presiding over the trial of four important German judges charged with crimes against humanity. To us viewers, it’s clear that they are guilty as charged, but all but one of them, Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), protest that they were only doing what was best for Germany: they were being reasonable, realistic, and getting along by going along. As we watched the movie, we recognized familiar themes repeating themselves now, most notably in Guantánamo: Detention without charges, torture, defendants denied representation, secret trials, secret evidence, and summary judgments. All these things happened in Hitler’s Germany; all these things are happening now in Mr. Bush’s America during Mr. Bush’s war. History is being repeated, but maybe, just maybe, for once we “Good Germans” are not always averting our eyes and willing ourselves not to know. Rep. Klein changed his mind. Did that just happen by itself or did we help him stand up and be counted?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Xenophilia: Central to the Church’s Mission

I just got the Easter newsletter from Saint Peter’s Church (ELCA), where I am a member. As always, the Senior Pastor, Amandus J. Derr (Mandy to one and all) has written something thought-provoking.
In his letter to the congregation on page 2, he discusses the idea of xenophilia, which, of course, is the opposite of xenophobia. He urges us to be xenophilic with those who share the liturgy with us. Particularly, to greet and be pleasant to those in our midst we don’t recognize as regulars in attendance at worship. Mandy encourages us to bring xenophilia to life: to love the stranger, i.e., making an effort to treat the outsider as if she or he was one of our own.
This is a tall order indeed, and harder than we might imagine. If the primatologist, Frans de Waal is correct, human mortality may be severely limited by having evolved as a way of banding together against adversaries with moral restraints being observed only toward the in group, not toward outsiders. “The profound irony is that our noblest achievement – morality – has evolutionary ties to our basest behavior – warfare,” he writes in the “New York Times” of March 20th. So, genetically, we may be programmed to be xenophobic, not xenophilic, even in church – or maybe particularly.
That said, biology is not destiny, and, if we make an effort to be conscious of our emotions, we may overcome our desire to slay the intruder. In our efforts, we certainly have the Bible on our side, which calls on us, as Mandy reminds us, to recognize and care for “the widow, the orphan and the stranger.” Moreover, it may help us to recognize that we too are strangers, to others and to ourselves, and we yearn to be welcomed into the fold. All of us know the feeling, if not being attacked, at least of being unrecognized, ignored, or passed by. To most, we remain strangers, but even to ourselves, we often don’t recognize our feelings and thoughts as our own, as in, “I never could have felt that, said that, and done that” and yet we did.
So how can we be conscious in church? The Lord’s Prayer has come into my mind in this connection, namely “Thy will be done on earth, as in heaven.” We know where earth is, but where is heaven? Answers include, “up there,” and “after life,” but another answer is “in the liturgy now.” In the liturgy, we create the world we want, and one thing we could want, if we thought about it, is a welcoming world like we hope heaven is. This would be a world where people would be glad to see us, to be near us, and to talk to us. We would matter to these people, and in turn, they would matter to us.
“This is pie in the sky,” you say. No, I say, it’s bread and wine here at this table now for us and our new friends, the strangers.” The table is central to our life together and so are strangers if any of us is to survive. So, at the table, strangers, and we come together to form a new “in-group:” all of us. We can carry that image with us, as we leave the table and go back into the “real” world. Maybe out there, we’ll remember being fed at the table and, strengthened, spread a little xenophilia.
Note: The 2007 Easter edition of The Intersection, Saint Peter’s newsletter, is available at http://www.saintpeters.org/parish_life/news.pdf or by going to www.saintpeters.org and clicking on Newsletter.

Lutherans in Action

I’ve sent this to some of you already, but I decided to also post it here.

Has the Church of Sweden heard the Gospel? See below.

Church of Sweden OK with gay weddings

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 / 02:02 PM
SUMMARY: The Church of Sweden says it will perform gay weddings if the Swedish Parliament upgrades the country's civil unions to same-sex marriage.
The Church of Sweden has announced it will perform gay wedding ceremonies if the Swedish parliament changes the current legislation to include same-sex marriage. The church already performs blessings of civil unions. The church would join the United Churches of Christ, which already celebrates same-sex weddings, as do some Reform Jewish synagogues and the Unitarian Church and Metropolitan Community Churches in North America.
Civil unions in Sweden have been legal since 1995, conferring most of the benefits and obligations of marriage.
However, in August, a parliamentary committee concluded that the civil-union law was outdated and recommended that the government allow full same-sex marriage.

The Angus Reid Global Monitor conducted a poll regarding EU integration and social attitudes and found that Sweden had the second-largest public approval ratings for legalizing same-sex marriage.

71 percent of Swedes approve of same-sex marriage. 51 percent of Swedes approve of adoption for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain and the state of Massachusetts, while Israel this year began recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. (Hassan Mirza, Gay.com U.K.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

At the movies: “Eating Out2: Sloppy Seconds”

My partner and I wanted to get out of the apartment last night, so we went and saw a movie, called “Eating Out2: Sloppy Seconds,” the sequel to the successful gay movie, “Eating Out,” which we enjoyed last year.
One function of fictional narratives is to transport us in our imagination to worlds we want to explore. The “Eating Out” movies provide such a world. In this world, there are problems, but we know that by the final scene, they will be solved. And so it is in “Eating Out2,” where the grass is green, the sky blue, and the characters pretty, both girls and boys, but emphatically, the boys.
Our hero is Kyle (Jim Verraros) who decides to go “straight” in order to bed Troy (Marco Dapper) who also seems straight and appears first in art class as the nude model. Of course, Troy is a gay wet dream: tall, handsome, muscular, hung, and, (unbelievable, uh?) sweet. Not only Kyle, but also his girl friends, Gwen (Emily Brooke Hands), Tiffani (Rebekah Kochan), and Kyle’s ex-boyfriend Marc (Brett Chukerman) all scheme to capture Troy for sex and love. Kyle’s plan is to present himself as an ex-gay with a girlfriend (one of his girl friends – I’m not sure which). Troy wants to be sure that he isn’t gay, so he gets Kyle to take him to a meeting of an ex-gay organization, “Homo No More,” whose office has a poster asking, “Who Would Jesus Do?” No one at the meetings, of course, is very enthusiastic about being ex-gay, and near the end of the movie the group’s leader, Jacob (Scott Vickaryous) gets his comeuppance via Octavio (Adrian Quinonez), another very hot hunk, who converts Jacob quickly back to his true gayness by forcefully entering Jacob’s more than willing backdoor.
And our dreamboy, Troy? He scandalizes everyone at the end by declaring (gasp!) that he is bisexual over everyone’s jeers. He soon supplies proof by making one of the girls very happy with his tongue in her nether region.
This movie is silly and loaded with sex. It’s also a picture of people who like sex and enjoy having a lot of it. They convey the idea that sex is fun and should not be hole-in-the-corner. It’s also about lying and its costs, it’s about repenting and seeking forgiveness, it’s about how love only flowers with trust and truth, it’s about being happy with who you are and enjoying your life.
So, “Eating Out2” for me was a vision of what the world might be like if everybody wasn’t hysterical about gay people, sex, and having fun. That’s not an inconsequential achievement for a little, frivolous gay movie.

Is Larry Kramer wrong?

Is Larry Kramer wrong? Read below and decide. PeteM.

"Gays are hated. Prove me wrong"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 / 10:27 AM
SUMMARY: Activist/author Larry Kramer, on the occasion of ACT UP's 20th birthday, asks Americans how they can stay silent about anti-gay discrimination.

Gay activist and author Larry Kramer's emotional open letter to the American public, published in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, posed a challenge: "Gays are hated. Prove me wrong."

Kramer spoke last week at New York's Gay & Lesbian Center, celebrating the 20th anniversary of ACT UP, a grass-roots AIDS organization, and protesting the U.S. military's adherence to "don't ask, don't tell."

In a follow-up letter, Kramer asked Americans how they can stay silent on gay issues.

"Your top general just called us 'immoral.' Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is in charge of an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian troops, some fighting for our country in Iraq."

"A right-wing political commentator, Ann Coulter, gets away with calling a straight presidential candidate a 'faggot.' Even Garrison Keillor, of all people, is making really tacky jokes about gay parents in his column."

"This, I guess, does not qualify as hate except that it is so distasteful and dumb, often a first step on the way to hate. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama tried to duck the questions that Pace's bigotry raised, confirming what gay people know -- that there is not one candidate running for public office anywhere who dares to come right out, unequivocally, and say decent, supportive things about us."

". . . You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you."

The letter was originally titled "A Letter to America's Heterosexuals" and retitled by the L.A. Times "Why do straights hate gays? An aging 72-year-old man isn't hopeful about the future."

Blogger Andy Towle criticized the headline as an insult to Kramer's 30-year contribution to the gay community.

"Whether or not you agree with Kramer's approach, you would think that the paper could find a bit more respect in its description of the longtime activist," Towle wrote.

"After all, his work with ACT UP was a major force in getting the AIDS epidemic the attention it deserved at crucial moments throughout the crisis."

Kramer has been a gay rights and HIV/AIDS advocate since the early 1970s.

His 1978 novel, "Faggots," is one of the best-selling gay novels of all time, but was criticized upon its publication by other gay activists for its graphic depiction of anonymous sex and recreational drug use.

Kramer lived in London for nine years between 1961 and 1970, where he co-produced and co-wrote the film "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush."

Recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Award in Literature, Kramer has also been honored with a Public Service Award from the U.S. political lobby group Common Cause. (Hassan Mirza, Gay.com U.K.)